“Which Loved Best”

Here’s a poem for Mother’s Day that will make some people cringe.  In fact, one of the sources I read called the poem that dreaded piece.   This morning I went on a hunt to find some original information on the author, Joy Allison.  After about 30 minutes, I came up with the best source at http://en.Allexperts.com  information by Ted Nesbitt.  Mr. Nesbitt is a librarian who has the motto:  “leave no stone unturned.”

Joy Allison, AKA Mary A. Cragin, paid taxes in Millford, Massachusetts, in 1860.  There are no collections of her poetry, so this may be a lone wolf poem.  Cragin also penned a book Billow Prairie  which is listed in the Library of Congress.  It was published by the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society in 1892.  Mr. Nesbitt says that they are very few copies remaining today.  The genre listed is Christian fiction.  If Mr. Nesbitt could not find a birth or death record, I am not going to try!

Once you read this poem, if you have never memorized it as part of an elementary program, you can tell me which loved mother best:  John, Fran, or Nell?

Which Loved Best

“I love you, Mother, said little John;
Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on.
And he was off to the garden swing,
Leaving his mother the wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother, said rosy Nell,
“I love you better than tongue can tell.”
Then she teased and pouted full half the day.
Till her mother was glad when she went to play.

I love you, Mother,” said little Fan,
“To-day I’ll help you all that I can;
How glad I am that school doesn’t keep!”
So she rocked the babe till he fell asleep.

Then stepping softly, she took the broom,
And swept the floor, and dusted the room.
Busy and happy all day was she;
Helpful and happy as a child could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed.
How do you think that mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best?



  1. Glenda

    Well, the obvious answer would seem to be little Fan, who was such a great helper to her mother. However, my analytical mind would want more information, such as the ages of the children. One must assume that they are being brought up in the same general way and should develop similar characteristics of helpfulness. Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, the one who went outside to play and stayed out of the way was as helpful as the one who took the broom in hand. The lesson is, though, for us to put arms and legs to our words, and to realize that LOVE means WORK sometimes, if the person we love is to really see our love for him/her. REAL love means self-sacrifice in some way, just as Christ loved us and gave His all for us. It’s good for us to examine our own love for Him and for others in our lives, so I thank you for this poem. I heard it long ago, but never had to memorize it, and I have not read it for many decades.

  2. Glenda, I would not have thought it all out like you did. Good points. My mind immediately went to the verse where Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep My commandments ( John 15:14).” The test of love is obedience.

  3. floyd Lundy

    Google “Ethics for Children” by Ella Lyman Cabot. There you will find the poem “Which
    Loved Best?” by Joy Allison. This book was written for and published in 1910 at the request of the Educational Association of South Dakota.

    I bought this book at a yard sale for 75 cents about 55 years ago and refer to it often.
    The preface is interesting reading for our day. So are the contents.

    Floyd Lundy

    • South Dakota explains why my older firend who was from SD quoted this poem in full length to my children when they were young. It was probably used in the schools. Oh, that it were still true today!

  4. Terry Turner

    There was perhaps another verse left out consistently in the various versions of this poem which went like this according to my mom when I was a child: “I love you, mother, said little Kate and went out to swing on the garden gate.” I didn’t remember the rest of the poem, but this is surely it. One has to wonder if this verse were in the original version or if it were added later by some other poetically inclined person.

    • I have heard, but not seen that verse. Many years ago now the poem was memorized by school children. My guess is that someone added it, much like how the poem set to music, “How Great Thou Art” has taken on transitions over the yuers.

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